Middle Sea Race: Fine fleet in for long haul

A global fleet has once again answered the call of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, with the 43rd edition, which starts at 1100 CEST, tomorrow Saturday, 22nd October, attracting a fleet of 120 yachts from 25 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, as well as most of Europe.

Five maxi multihulls and two maxi monohulls are expected to lead the charge around the 606 nautical mile course, albeit at a more gentlemanly pace than last year. The prevailing forecast is for a light wind race, in complete contrast to the dream conditions of 2021.

No matter, the challenge and attraction of offshore racing is as much mental as it is physical, and the Middle Sea Race has a reputation for always delivering whatever the weather.

One couldn’t ask for a more scenic start – Studio Borlenghi pic

Experienced navigator and race router, Mike Broughton delivered the Weather Briefing to the expectant crews at the pre-race Skipper’s Meeting. “High pressure is dominating the central Mediterranean, which makes for light wind across the course,” he advised.

“There will be no records this year, but on the plus side there should be no rain.” The first sections of the course all the way up to the Messina Strait look extremely tricky, but the front runners should expect decent breeze as they exit the Strait and head to Stromboli.

“This wind will be on the nose, as will the medium, mid-teens breeze likely to be encountered from the Egadi Islands down to Lampedusa on the western side of the course.” In other words, this is going to be a test of patience, mental resilience and a determination to eke out every tenth of a knot possible.

Multihulls will be there in force – Studio Borlenghi pic

Headline acts are the five former MOD70 trimarans led, in terms of experience at least, by Giovanni Soldini’s well-travelled Italian entry Maserati Multi70. A three-time line honours winner in 2016, 2018 and 2020, Maserati was second over the line last year after a close-fought battle with Argo.

Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Mana was second on the water to Maserati in 2020, but a winner under MOCRA time correction. In 2021, Mana was third home. Alexis Barrier, the French professional sailor who competed in the last Vendée Globe is among the Mana crew, along with Paul Larsen of Sailrocket fame.

“I have done the race three times before on much smaller, slower boats than the MOD70. The winds were strong and the waves big. It won’t be the same at all this time,“ Barrier explained.

“Maybe we’ll break the record for the slowest race ever, although I hope not!” The three lesser-known quantities, in terms of this race, are: Frank Slootman’s Snowflake (USA) with Gavin Brady leading the crew, Erik Maris’ Zoulou (FRA) with Sidney Gavignet and Axciss entered by Italian sailor, Cosimo Malesci.

Strong competition in the 50ft plus fleet- Studio Borlenghi pic

On paper at least, the monohull line honours contest is between the 30.48 metre Farr-designed Leopard 3 and the 30.5m Judel & Vrolijk drawn Bullit. Leopard 3 (ESP) has past pedigree with boat captain Chris Sherlock on his fifth Middle Sea Race and third on Leopard 3, which was first home in 2009 and runner-up in 2017.

The crew includes Will Best as navigator, a role he held on Alegre in 2008 (line honours) and 2009 (overall winner). “The weak high pressure over the centre of the Med is not moving anywhere fast,” confirmed Best.

“Smaller cells will develop over the next few days that will come and go, but the big thing for us is to get to the southerly flow off the western end of Sicily. If you get to that first you should be fine, but getting there will be the most stressful part for us.

“It will be hard sailing to start with, working every puff for every inch,” continued Best. “Boats will be much more even when it is so light. It doesn’t matter if you are 50 feet or 100 feet. Only when we get into the breeze will our waterline length allow us to extend.”

Andrea Recordati’s Bullitt is on its debut race, but features a talented team including ocean race winner, Joca Signorini, sought-after navigator and weather-router Marcel Van Triest, Mike Joubert – a race winner with Hi-Fidelity in 2012 – and Peter Van Niekerk, two-time America’s Cup winner.

Signorina explained a little background to the boat: “It’s a Wally Yacht more used to inshore racing, but the team has put a lot of work into making her ready for the race, where we are going to spend a few nights on board.

“The boat is ready,” he continued. “We have a light forecast, which may suit us, and we are expecting a big fight with Leopard. It’s going to a long race, and we have to keeping working hard throughout. The nice thing about this race is that there are so many stages. We are doing a lot of work trying to understand how to adapt to each stage, because it’s going to be tough and there is a lot ahead of us. ”

Other maxis to look out for include Dutch entry Aragon, a class winner in 2020, Jean-Michel Caye’s Vismara 77 Luce Guida (FRA), Guido Paolo Gamucci’s Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X (ITA) and whose Cippa Lippa 8 finished second overall in 2016.

Jean-Pierre Dreau’s Lady First 3 (FRA, another Mylius 60), is also recommended, Jean Philippe Blanpain’s Vismara 62 Leaps and Bounds 2 (FRA) and the Botin 65 Spirit of Lorina entered by Jean-Pierre Barjon (FRA).

I Love Poland, the VO70 of Gregorz Baranowski and line honours winner in 2020, while hugely popular for their interaction with local youth sailing, is unlikely to be favoured by the predicted winds. And Marton Jozsa’s Wild Joe will be on its 11th race and should never be discounted.

The most interesting, and undoubtedly more significant, battle is the one for the overall monohull win under IRC Time Correction, rewarded with the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy.

On numbers, standout yachts in this year’s IRC category are remarkable and picking likely winners is a lottery. ‘To finish first, first you have to finish’ is the overworn saying in any race-based sport. In yachting, one can add ‘first in class’. The monohull yachts are divided into groupings based broadly on size, performance characteristics and the eventual IRC rating.

Wind across the course during the race has a real impact on the results, as it favours or hinders different segments of the fleet depending on strength and direction, neither of which ever sit still.

Full story and all information: http://www.rolexmiddlesearace.com

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